Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Psalm 91 and Lessons Learned from "Prince of Persia"

Jake Gyllenhaal leaps from one wall to the next, steadies himself and crashes into a foe with precision. Arrows whiz past his head within a hair's breath of slicing off an ear, and each of his steps fall with the swift sureness of a gazelle's, despite a harrowing battle raging around him.

Call me a sap, but when I saw the fight scenes from Disney's "Prince of Persia," I could only think of one thing:

Psalm 91.

Of course, the movie itself has nothing to do with the Bible or with the life of King David. But as I watched Gyllenhaal skirt past dangers with that winsome smile of his, all I could see was David personified, his trials and battles as told in 1st Samuel and his faith in God as told in the Psalms. When we read the Bible, we often see it through our 21st century American eyes. So sometimes it takes a fanciful movie to bring that reality home.

Why do I bring this up?

Currently I'm in the midst of personal traumas. But I can tell you with utmost certainty, Psalm 91 is true for me and has played out, day after day, week after week. Let's take a look at it:

Psalm 91
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[a]
2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

3 Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

9 If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he[b] loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

And now, let's take a look at this short montage from "Prince of Persia," which is a compilation of battle scenes, sap and all. As you watch it, look past the Hollywood glitter and see this Psalm unfold in front of your eyes.

Then realize one thing:

He who promises to protect you is the same One who shielded David.

He is your fortress, in whom you can trust.

Check this out:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Memory of Joy

Conclusion of this story series.

So as I reflect about my friendship with Joy, her sickness, her acceptance of Jesus as her Savior after a lifetime of atheism and her death, one thing occurs to me:

We can be vessels to bring God to others ... but we can't force them to accept Him. Ultimately, He has to work with them individually, and their hearts have to be open to His voice.

Joy came to mind for me in the midst of a year of battling atheists on Twitter. Day after day, week after week, month after month, I tried sharing my faith with them. Sometimes people were receptive to a discussion. Sometimes they belittled me. Sometimes they mocked me. Sometimes they crucified my character. Sometimes they became my friends.

None of them, so far, have accepted Jesus as their Savior.

Does it mean the witness is ineffective?

I used to battle inwardly with that question. But when all is said and done .. it's up to them. It's between them and God.

All we can do is present the information.

Did I do anything super special or spectacular to get Joy to change her views?

Not at all. In fact, if you look over my friendship with Joy, you'll see that she was probably the better friend to me than I was to her. I guess that what it comes down to is being willing to share.

Be ready with your answers. Know your Scripture. Immerse yourself in prayer. And if you make a concerted effort to tell others about Jesus, especially those who deny His existence, get ready for the fight of your life. But leave the miracles to God.

Can an atheist become a Christ-loving believer?

I've seen it happen.

Is it common?


Does that make it any less true, special or meaningful?

Not at all.

If just one sheep of 100 is lost, you know the Shepherd seeks it until it's found. One sheep -- one person -- matters to God as much as if he or she were the only person alive. It's our responsibility to see them as He does. Everyone -- everyone -- is that dearly loved.

I don't know what will become of the atheists I met on Twitter. But I know one thing -- the atheist friend of mine named Joy is now walking with Jesus. It was her choice, her decision. It was her willingness to open her mind and heart to Him and allow Him into her life.

I had nothing to do with it, but I can tell you one thing:

I'm super excited that this isn't the end of the story of Joy. One day, the memory of Joy will become a tangible soul, standing in front of me, welcoming me home.

One day, Joy and I will be together again, bathed in the light of His glory.

And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, others will be there, too.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Mysterious Visitor & A Message from the Grave

Fall 1997.
The Pennsylvania State Capitol.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Pretentiously ornate, the state Capitol in Pennsylvania provides a grandiose backdrop for political drama at its finest. Dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt and built with the dirty influence of steel magnates in the early 1900s, the building represents all that which Americans find intriguing and insidious about their politicians.

Atop a sweeping marble staircase in a high-domed Rotunda adorned with murals ... was my office.

I'd scoot up the steps in spindly heels, pass through a door into a hidden hallway and enter the press corps's domain. Our Associated Press bureau had its own room apart from reporters of other newspapers, on the right. We were central to the action, and equally easy to find.

So it was no surprise that, even from her grave, Joy found me there.

I was clicking out a story on a clunky late-90s PC when a door knock stopped me. A young man shyly peeked in.

"Can we help you?" my bureauchief asked.

"I'm looking for Heidi."

I smiled and nodded at him, expecting this to be a lawmaker's intern with a press release in hand. But when he returned my gaze, I knew this was more than about a news story.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Joy has died. She's sent me here with a letter for you. She asked me to hand-deliver it. I've driven up here from Maryland to find you."

All action in the room halted. My co-workers looked up from their keyboards at me curiously. The bureauchief coughed nervously and suggested that I take the conversation elsewhere.

Feeling dizzy, I suggested to my visitor to sit with me on a small marble bench outside the door at the top of the Rotunda stair.

He silently handed me the letter, my name on the envelope written in Joy's feminine and loopy style.

"When did she die? Why didn't I know?"

"She didn't want you to know. She just wanted to pass away quietly without sadness. She gave me this letter and expressly said you weren't to know until I saw you face to face and could hand this to you myself."

I stared open-mouthed at this kind person, amazed that he'd travel three hours and actually track me down.

"We worked together," he explained. "She was a good friend. She talked about you all the time. She wanted to make sure that you knew how much she loved you."

He stood up.

"I've done what I came to do. I'm sorry to shock you like this, but I should really leave so that you can read that alone."

I nodded. "Thank you."

He turned and trotted down the staircase. My hands shook as I opened the envelope and read Joy's message from the grave.

She wanted me to know that before she died, she'd accepted Jesus as her Savior.
She wanted me to know that I wasn't to grieve. She was in Heaven with Him.
She would see me again.
She asked that I check on her little girl from time to time.
And she said she loved me.

I sat there for about 20 minutes, staring at the beauty around me and not quite sure how to feel.

She was gone. My friend was gone.

But my atheist friend had found Jesus before she took her last breath, and she was with Him.

And I would see her again. Her handwriting, a tangible memory of her, gave me the assurance that even at that moment, she was still very much alive ... just in another realm, the spiritual realm, no longer trapped in her body of pain.

But what's the upshot of all of this?

What did I take away from my friendship with Joy and what I learned about sharing Jesus with others?

We'll talk about it tomorrow. I hope you stop by.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Eternal Conversation

March 1995.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

You could call it the winter of my discontent.

I'd just begun my nine-month probationary training period with The Associated Press in Philadelphia, and already, I was burning all ends of every candle. Stuck on a night shift, I did nothing for the first three months but take newspaper stories and boil them into "30-second broadcast snippets" that could be ripped and read on television and radio.

If you've ever seen the Karate Kid, where Ralph learns martial arts by repeated motions from chores, you'll understand why the AP requires night after night of broadcast writing for its new recruits. The goal is to churn tight copy within minutes that can be read verbatim on CNN. After that, you can sling together any story off the top of your head and call it in from the back seat of a taxi.

It was in the midst of this endless night of Journalist Purgatory that Joy called. She said she wanted to travel to see me for a weekend, even if I was working odd hours.

When she showed up at my door, I had to force myself to hide my surprise at her appearance. Joy was a skeleton. Her head was wrapped in a colorful scarf, as her beautiful thick and curly hair had long ago fallen out. She spoke feebly and in a near whisper. She laughed as she brought out three different wigs from her suitcase and modeled them, resembling a mannequin wearing a mop. Despite popping one breath mint after another, she couldn't shake a perpetual breath odor that seemed to be straight from the grave.

She listened patiently as I regaled her with tales of my psychotic editor and fellow AP staff members, whose pretentious self-opinions of their writing gifts squeezed out any earnest attempt at objectivity. She wasn't strong enough to tour the city, and she really just wanted to stay in my apartment and veg with movies on the television. She slept while I worked. After I got home and slept a few hours, she made eggs and bacon and strong coffee for me like an older sister.

And then we talked.

Her life had taken a turn for the worse. Her husband was leaving her for another woman, and she knew she only had months to live, if that.

Then came the words that I never thought I'd hear.

"I've been reading the Bible. Really reading it," she said.

"No kidding. What have you been reading, specifically?"


"John's a good book to start with."

"I love it."


I didn't press her. I allowed her to just talk and muse, dissect it and understand it. We didn't discuss her salvation or whether she was ready to believe. We just walked around the perimeter of that while I answered her questions about John's writings.

The hours flew, and before I knew it, Joy was on her way home again.

I had no idea it would be the last time I would see her. I didn't know that our conversation had eternal repercussions.

And I was in no way prepared for what would happen the next time I heard from her.

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of this story series.